Battling discrimination and empowering the LGBTIQ+ community to defend their rights in Latin America and the Carribean
Launched in 2018, Diversxs builds on HRE work with Human Rights Defenders but focusses attention on the LGBTIQ+ community. The project promotes the empowerment and mobilization of young people under the age of 25 to defend the rights of the LGBTIQ+ communities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Currently, the project is implemented in Chile, Puerto Rico, Paraguay and Venezuela, and has engaged over 7000 youth. It is financed by the Swedish Postcode Lottery
In Latin America and the Caribbean, LGBTIQ+ individuals and communities suffer discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Regionally, social attitudes – informed by social conservatism (in some cases religious fundamentalism) and machismo culture – play a significant role in discrimination. However, there is considerable variation across the four countries. In Puerto Rico and Chile, attitudes and policies are more liberal, and there is more scope for public campaigning. In Paraguay and Venezuela, social attitudes are more conservative, and rights are more difficult to uphold.
The project aims to generate a sustainable change from the human rights point of view for the LGBTIQ+ communities of Chile, Paraguay, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, and in the wider region. It has two main objectives: First, to reduce discrimination of LGBTIQ+ communities, in country and regionally. Second, it aims to empower LGBTIQ+ activists and groups to defend their rights. The project supports and works with LGBTIQ+ leaders and activists, LGBTIQ+ and non- LGBTIQ+ youth, LGBTIQ+ organizations and state and non-state agents through human rights education, capacity building and research and campaign work. It also reaches the LGBTIQ+ communities at regional and national levels using social media. The project is highly contextualised to each of the four countries, according to differing needs and legal frameworks.
Furthermore, Diversxs works with new activists, supporting them to come together to connect with other LGBTIQ+ youth to empower themselves and mobilise others. At the core of the project is training on LGBTIQ+ rights, via a training of trainer’s approach in which youth are trained to pass on their knowledge and skills to train others in the community. In this way, youth activists can replicate knowledge and skills within other young people. This method is rooted in youth leadership and intersectionality (the idea that individuals face multiple discriminations as a result of the intersections of different identities). It also relates to other work currently carried out by Amnesty International, on rights of LGBTIQ+ people and sexual and reproductive rights as well as global and regional Amnesty campaigns on human rights defenders and security.
Youth participation and mobilisation are at the core of the projects, though there are considerable variations in the tactics used within each country. Despite the highly contextualised methods, the project involves three main types of activities: First, building capacity of youth activists through the development of a regional program in LGBTIQ+ leadership training (a training of trainer’s model) in which activities are led by young people. Second, the strategic alliances and campaigning on LGBTIQ+ rights by forming networks and alliances with organisations, development and implementation of national campaigns and national meetings. And third, strong outreach including the creation of a digital education community and exchange (using social media) to support mobilisation activities.
All actions taken by Diversxs have been developed and managed by young LGBTIQ+ and their allies among the youth. Activists have taken a leading role in the project designing, planning and implementing actions and activities for non-discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation, identity and gender expression. These include: workshops, forums, fairs, survey and design process of a local campaign to be launched during 2019, among others.
While the programme is still in its infancy, there has been positive feedback and outcomes already. In Puerto Rico, youth activists reported feeling more empowered to defend LGBTIQ+ rights. In Chile, activists and partner organizations are observed to be taking actions to position education as a crosscutting human right and ensuring the protection of human rights of children and youth. “Through Diversxs and the information we share with each other, we are becoming clearer about our rights and our position and have access to new spaces for struggle.” (ES: A través de Diversxs y de la información que compartimos entre nosotrxs, cada vez estamos más claros sobre nuestros derechos y nuestra postura y tenemos acceso a nuevos espacios de lucha”.)
Though it was not a primary aim of the project to influence HRE into curricula in the formal education system, in Chile, several partnerships with local governments and municipalities as well as specific municipal programmes were established during the first year of project implementation. Amnesty International Chile has signed a cooperation agreement with Municipality of Chile Lota (Bío Bío Region), the project has also engaged a consultant to review the implementation of Anti-Discrimination Laws in cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation, identity and / or expression of gender.
A testament to the strength of the project is the high motivation among the activists engaged, despite adverse social and political climates. Since the start of the project, Venezuela has been in the midst of a political and economic crisis that poses very practical constraints to mobilising and organising (e.g. electricity, transport systems, availability of food). It is notable that the project has progressed in spite of this and highlights the significance of the project to the LGBTIQ+ communities even when they are struggling with basic necessities.
In Paraguay, while freedoms of assembly and expression are guaranteed in law, LGBTIQ+ activists face various forms of suppression in practice. As one participant explains,” “Taking into account the context of the city and what it takes to work on a very controversial issue, I do feel a lot of fear at times. But if I don’t do what I’m doing or if I decide to remain silent, things aren’t going to get better. If I want to change something or be part of the change I have to take the step. I don’t feel safe doing what I’m doing, I know it can have consequences at the employment, academic and social levels, but I’m reassured by the fact that it’s worth fighting for.” (“Teniendo en cuenta el contexto de la ciudad y lo que conlleva trabajar un tema muy controversial, sí siento mucho miedo a veces. Pero si yo no hago lo que estoy haciendo o si decido quedarme callado, no se van a mejorar las cosas. Si quiero cambiar algo o ser parte del cambio tengo que darle el paso. No me siento seguro haciendo lo que hago, sé que puede traer consecuencias en el nivel laboral, académico y social, pero me tranquiliza el hecho de saber que vale la pena luchar.”
The project is generating significant commitment from young people as activists. This largely indicates the personal importance of LGBTIQ+. A key outcome so far is the personal impact on activists from their participation in the project, and in particular, networking with others. The project is forming national and regional networks of activists and it is clear that online engagement via social media continues to play an increasingly important role. “I was surprised to learn that there was a supportive space for people like me. I had the support of my friends, but I had never had access to that kind of space where you talk about community rights and how to defend them.” Me sorprendió el saber que existía un espacio de apoyo para personas como yo. Contaba con el apoyo de mis amistades, pero nunca había accedido a ese tipo de espacio donde se habla de los derechos de la comunidad y de cómo defenderlos
The project is starting to mobilise LGBTIQ+ activists and networks and with backing from Amnesty, they are taking actions that they would not have done otherwise. In Paraguay, activists overcame significant challenges to their freedom of association. A group of LGBTIQ+ activists in Paraguay asked for permission to hold an event. The mayor sent a formal letter saying it was not allowed in Paraguay to have such meetings as the city is “pro-life, pro-family”. With support from Amnesty, activists responded to the Mayor asserting their rights and the fact that the Mayor did not have jurisdiction to prevent them gathering and held the event without permission, attracting a lot of attention from journalists.
The creation of mutual support networks has been a major, and perhaps unexpected, benefit for participants. Networking nationally and regionally has enabled individuals to build personal support networks – a key ingredient of personal resilience. Being regional adds a further layer of support and perspective for participants to see how others are taking action. For some participants, involvement in the project has impacted materially on their personal lives, for example by coming out (as gay, lesbian, transgender etc.).
On the other hand, involvement (particularly use of social media) may also pose personal risks, particularly for young people who have not come out to their families, classmates or colleagues. After some assessment it became clear that personal security was a priority for activists and the project has now developed a chapter in the toolkit on LGBTIQ + rights with tips for activists on taking care of themselves and others.